May 01, 2011 Q & A

Speaking in tongues


What does the OPC believe regarding Pentecost? Do you believe in the gift of speaking in other tongues? Why or why not?


You have asked a very large question, one of the most discussed questions of the 20th century! There are many, many books written on this but the OPC looks to the Word of God for the answers.

Yes, the OPC does believe in Pentecost, but, no, the OPC and reformed churches in general do not view Pentecost the ways "charismatic" or "Pentecostal" churches do. Here's what I mean.

We have to start with the "why" of Pentecost before we can correctly understand the "what." Jesus Christ is said to be the one who gives the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Later in the gospel of John, Christ spoke of sending another comforter like himself (John 14:15-26, 16:4-15). Before he ascended into heaven he told his disciples that they were to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high and then they would be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). That outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost was the once and for all giving of the Holy Spirit to the church, not just to that tiny group of believers gathered in Jerusalem. They were witnesses in their day, but the church needs the presence and power of the Holy Spirit always to fulfill the call of Jesus to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The presence of the Holy Spirit now in the church is how Jesus keeps his promise to be with the church always, even to the close of the age (Matt. 28:18-20). When Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, he does not take that great gift back, the Spirit is with us forever (John 14:16). We have to notice that the purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit is to enable the church to witness to the Savior (Acts 1:8) and that is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit, were telling of the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:11), as Peter's sermon said (Acts 2:14ff). To focus upon the work of the Holy Spirit in the modern emphasis on the gift of tongues is to miss the reason for the Holy Spirit's coming.

It is very clear from Acts 2:7-11, that the tongues there were known tongues or human languages because the Spirit was giving the disciples "utterance" (Acts 2:4) to speak of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, exactly what Christ had said the Spirit would come to do (John 14:26, 16:14). The modern "tongues" movement often misses this Christ-centered focus by seeing "tongues" not as known human languages but as heavenly or unknown non-human languages as 1 Corinthians 13:1 is thought to mean. However, we have to understand what Paul is saying about the gift of tongues in light of what we find in John's Gospel and in Acts. Understanding the gifts of tongues to be my individual language between me and God is the very opposite of how the New Testament understands spiritual gifts being given for the common good or the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:7). We cannot talk about Christ giving me a gift which is for me alone as Paul clearly teaches in 1 Cor. 12-14.

But does this mean that the miraculous gift of speaking another language without learning it is gone since that was what happened on the day of Pentecost as a way God was spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to multiple nations and language groups in a single instance? Here we have to understand that the apostolic church was enabled to declare the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11) because the New Testament had not yet been recorded and providentially preserved for us. We now do have that inspired Word, Old and New Testaments, available in multiple languages, many more languages, in fact, than were represented on the day of Pentecost. So now the Holy Spirit is using not the miraculous ability to speak another language without studying, but the very inspired Word of God in the Bible to declare the mighty work of Jesus Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (WCF 1.1)

There is much more that could be said but I hope that this is helpful. The most fruitful thing is always to read the Bible yourself and study how God himself speaks. Note, for example, that outside of the references to tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14, the subject is not spoken of elsewhere in the New Testament. Keep things always in the biblical perspective and ask God himself to teach you.



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